LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY, a prisoner under arrest for treason faced his judge. The judge asked him about his beliefs and his political aspirations. “You can accuse me of wanting to be a ruler,” the prisoner replied, “but all I can say is that I came into this world to testify to the truth.” The judge was deeply scornful. “What is truth?” he said, and turned on his heel and walked away.

If you were working for a great empire, as was this judge and governor, you would be far more concerned about power than about truth. In fact, later in the trial, the judge reminded his prisoner that he had the power to release or execute him. The judge cared more about enhancing his own power and reputation in the empire than about meting out justice. The life of a powerless prisoner, along with the concept of truth, was expendable.

Today, truth itself may be expendable in the United States. A few years ago, comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” to describe that reality. But in the power struggle of our recent presidential election and the resulting shift in leadership, truth is becoming more and more squishy. Thus the Oxford English Dictionary added a stronger word in 2016: “post-truth,” defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” As Oxford’s usage example puts it, “in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire.” No doubt the fake news we have seen and heard on social media is sure to continue.

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